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U.S.A.: Education unionists celebrate Labour Day

The American Federation of teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), EI’s national affiliates, honour all workers countrywide on Monday 3 September, U.S. Labour Day.


“Labour Day means many things to many people—back to school, the end of summer, a needed respite from the daily grind,” stated AFT President, Randi Weingarten. “For us, as working people and union members, Labour Day stands for something special and profound.”

She added: “It’s a day to honour the deep commitment each of us has to serve the children we teach, the families we heal and the communities we love. It’s a day to reflect on the values we hold dear—that every American should have access to a good job that can support a family, with access to affordable healthcare; that every child should be able to attend a high-quality public school in their neighbourhood; that college should not be a luxury for the few but should be affordable for all; and that we should be able to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work, without worrying that we’ll be a burden to our loved ones.”

Weingarten regretted that “an unholy alliance of corporate interests and politicians—intent on slashing budgets and then blaming us for the harmful results, while at the same time finding ways to finance tax cuts for wealthy donors—continue to double down on efforts to polarise and divide us: parent against teacher, union member against non-union member. Because if we stand divided, they stand to profit.”

Weingarten called on workers to share ideas that will strengthen schools, hospitals and communities via http://go.aft.org/solutions.

AFT has made resources on Labour Day available here.

For Labour Day, the NEA has also developed labour resources helping students learn more about working men and women. These resources are available on the trade union’s website. Among these resources are: labour lesson plans, labour songs, labour quotes, timelines, biographies from the American Labour Studies Centre; an annotated timeline for labour history events from 1607 to 2000 from the US labour confederation AFL-CIO; and a document entitled “Combatting Negative Views of Unions: A Defence of Labour Studies,” written for the NEA by Victor G. Devinatz, Professor of labour relations at the Illinois State University, which talks about the role of unions in promoting social justice, helping to pass employment-related legislation that has benefited unionized workers and non-union employees, having positive effects on productivity, and unions' importance in maintaining a healthy democratic society.

These materials highlight that Labour Day honours the American worker and acknowledges the value and dignity of work and its role in American life.

NEA also reminded that the first Labour Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York. Through the years, the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labour Day. On 28 June 1894, the U.S. Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

EI: Respect for human and trade union rights

“We wish our U.S. affiliates a happy Labour Day,” EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards said. “We also commend them for their great achievements in defending not only national educators’, but more generally workers’ rights, for example in Ohio, where a  legislation designed to silence the public workers’ voices and strip away their collective bargaining rights was stopped, due to their efforts to mobilise this State’s citizens.”

“The crisis must not be used as an excuse to deprive workers, in the U.S.A. or anywhere else in the world, of their basic human rights, such as dignity and decent living conditions, and trade union rights, such as collective bargaining,” Edwards added. “We will stand on affiliates’ side each time an ill-advised Government will deny its citizens these rights.”

The EI resolution on the Strengthening of International Trade Unionism within the Context of Globalisation, adopted in July 2011 at EI 6th World Congress, also acknowledges the context of profound economic and social crisis which has led to the unemployment of 32 million working men and women and the spread of poverty and hunger.

Crisis, no excuse to undermine the value of work

This resolution also deplores the aggressive policies of privatisation of public services going together with increasingly precarious working conditions and low road employment practices of major private employers. It criticises some multinational corporations for demonstrating disrespect for workers, union-busting tactics, fear and intimidation for workers who speak up, and firings and reprisals when they seek to join a union. It condemns the various attacks on trade union organisations as guarantors of the fundamental democratic rights of working men and women throughout the world and as decisive entities in negotiation processes.

Need for strengthening international trade unionism

The resolution observes that “this a moment for trade unions to intensify, rather than retreat from, their internationalist orientation,” and considers that “these challenging times require unprecedented coordination and communications to link together the daily struggles of workers to build their unions and seek a collective voice on the job and elevate their collective demands for respect of fundamental rights and a path to decent work in every possible arena.”

It further urges governments to perform their function as guarantors of the rights of all citizens and especially the basic rights to public education and public health, as well as the basic rights to form trade unions and to bargain collectively.

The resolution can be read in its entirety here.

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